A common anxiety among the thousands of NCSY Alumni who travel across the globe to spend a gap year in the Holy Land after graduating high school is where they will spend their “free” Shabbatot. Many students don’t have any family in Israel, and the thought of not having a place to spend Shabbos is worrisome. Together with her husband and with the support of her 8 children, Rachel Nadel, who is originally from Binghamton, New York and now lives in Kochav HaShachar, uses her free time to remedy this problem by setting up these Yeshiva, seminary and college students with families across Israel for Shabbat through her organization, Anywhere in Israel.
“We decided to start Anywhere in Israel because we were hoping to connect people to Israel in a stronger way,” says Nadel. “We saw that with all the wonderful things that a year in Israel does for a student, the one component that had a few gaps was the free weekend concept. This is a prime opportunity for students to connect to Eretz Yisroel on a deeper level, so we set them up with solid, frum NCSY Alumni who are living happy lives in Israel to show them what life could be like a few steps down the way.”
And the response has been astounding. The Nadels gets hundreds of Shabbat requests every week, and their inboxes and flooded with emails from families around the country who are interested in being hosts on the program. The phone starts ringing before they make Havdala on Motzei Shabbat and doesn’t stop until the second before Hadlakat Neirot (candle lighting) the next Friday afternoon. They have host families all over the country, from the North of Israel to the South and everywhere in between. “Hachnosas Orchim [hosting guests] in Israel is something that everyone connects to, and certainly the families who were students once upon a time want to give back because they were recipients of people who welcomed them into their homes during their gap year,” explains Nadel.
Nadel grew up in Binghamton, New York. Although her family was secular, she would go to her grandparents around the corner every Friday night for Shabbat dinner throughout her childhood. “I just loved watching my grandma light candles, and I could feel something happening to me over the years as I sat around the Friday night table,” says Nadel.
By the time Nadel turned 12, NCSY came to town and she attended her first Shabbaton—“and the rest is history!” She got hooked and became the Har Sinai Junior NCSY regional president, rapidly moving up the ranks through high school as a board member and eventually becoming regional president for 2 years. She decided to keep Shabbos and eat Kosher at the young age of 12 and took lots of baby steps to becoming fully Orthodox. “NCSY was my life through age 21. When I was in Stern College, I basically majored in NCSY.” says Nadel. Two of Nadel’s contemporaries during her time at Stern College were none other than NCSY’s very own International Director, Rabbi Steven Burg, and Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Executive Director, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass.
“Whatever we do at Anywhere in Israel is fueled by the inspiration I had in NCSY. The role models I had in NCSY completely set the tone for the chessed I do today,” says Nadel. When she asked former Har Sinai Regional Director, Rabbi Morey Schwartz, how she can repay him for all that he did for her, he said by reaching out to others. Nadel feels that this cycle of taking and giving will continue to repeat itself as the students she has helped find Shabbat placements return to Israel as olim and open their homes to other students there for the year.